Posts Tagged ‘Muslims’

China’s Xinjiang Surveillance Expands to Non-Uyghur Muslims

July 18, 2018

Over the last year, there have been an increasing number of reports detailing the proliferation of re-education camps and the rise of a totalitarian police state in the  region. The concept of re-education has existed since the advent of the People’s Republic of China. However, ever since former Tibet Party Secretary Chen Quanguo was installed in Xinjiang to replicate his perceived successes, Xinjiang’s re-education system alone grew to overshadow China’s officially-abolished re-education through labor system.

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Although the Chinese government denies the re-education camps’ existence, estimates peg (and likely underestimate) the number of Uyghurs interred at 120,000. Individuals can land in the camps for reasons such as contacting friends or relatives abroad, worshipping at mosques, or possessing Quranic verses on their phones; camps are designed to replace inmates’ Islamic beliefs with loyalty to the Party. Throughout such detention, individuals are wholly deprived of due process. The rise of cutting-edge facial recognition technology, most recently through Hikvision winning a Chinese government tender to install facial recognition cameras on 967 mosques, makes it all the easier to be placed in a re-education camp.

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While observers have expressed alarm that Xinjiang may be functioning as a pilot region for surveillance, of increasing concern is the expansion of the Xinjiang model to non-Uyghur Muslims such as the Hui and ethnic Kazakhs. The Hui minority group, traditionally treated with more acceptance by the Chinese government due to their higher levels of cultural and linguistic assimilation with the Han majority, have found themselves subject to increasingly greater levels of scrutiny. In Linxia, a hub for Hui Muslims in Western China, the CCP had already removed call-to-prayer loudspeakers from 355 mosques last fall, citing noise pollution, and has now banned minors under 16 from studying the Koran or participating in religious activity. AFP’s Becky Davis reports that Hui individuals now live in a constant state of fear and despair:

“The winds have shifted” in the past year, explained a senior imam who requested anonymity, adding: “Frankly, I’m very afraid they’re going to implement the Xinjiang model here.”

[…] “They want to secularise Muslims, to cut off  at the roots,” the imam said, shaking with barely restrained emotion. “These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: only in Communism and the party.”

[…] “We’re scared, very scared. If it goes on like this, after a generation or two, our traditions will be gone,” said Ma Lan, a 45-year-old caretaker, tears dripping quietly into her uneaten bowl of beef noodle soup.

Inspectors checked her local mosque every few days during the last school holiday to ensure none of the 70 or so village boys were present. Their imam initially tried holding lessons in secret before sunrise but soon gave up, fearing repercussions.

Instead of studying five hours a day at the mosque, her 10-year-old son stayed home watching television. He dreams of being an imam, but his schoolteachers have encouraged him to make money and become a Communist cadre, she said. [Source]

Another group that has now been subject to increased scrutiny are China’s ethnic Kazakhs, who number over one million in Xinjiang, and may now be considered “potential confederates” of the Uyghurs. A Kazakh source with close ties to the Urumqi police claimed that the authorities had to detain a quota of 3,000 Kazakhs or Uyghurs per week.

Currently, an ongoing Kazakh court case is attracting attention as defendant Sayragul Sauytbay–an ethnic Kazakh Chinese national who illegally entered Kazakhstan to reunite with her family–claimed that as a state employee in an re-education camp, she knew that it held 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs. For more on the situation, see a report from Christopher Rickleton and Ben Dooley at the AFP.

As for the exiled Uyghur community, despite their living abroad, Beijing has attempted to exert control on some members. BuzzFeed News’ Megha Rajagopalan described how some exiled  are being  induced into spying for the government, lest their China-based family members be sent to re-education camps without due process:

Every person interviewed for this article said state security operatives told them their families could be sent to, or would remain in, internment camps for “reeducation” if they did not comply with their demands. It was a campaign, they said, that aimed not only to gather details about Uyghurs’ activities abroad, but also to sow discord within exile communities in the West and intimidate people in hopes of preventing them from speaking out against the Chinese state.

“China’s now got the capacity and willingness to reach out across sovereign borders to influence the behavior of others,” said James Leibold, an associate professor at La Trobe University in Australia. “With Chinese citizens of Chinese heritage, they may want to win them over, but with Uyghurs they want to squash them. Their willingness to do this is not only in a covert way, but now increasingly in an overt way.”

[…] State security operatives approaching Uyghurs abroad for information on their communities has become so common that it has sowed a deep mistrust in these overseas communities and a pervasive feeling of being watched, those interviewed for this article said.

[…] The lack of trust has impeded efforts toward activism abroad, even as many Uyghur groups are seeking to pressure Western governments to push back on China’s use of mass  and reeducation camps through large political demonstrations.

“The catalyst for the mistrust is China’s deploying a wide network of spies amongst the Uyghur community,” said one exile in Sydney. “This mistrust plays out as a hurdle to cooperation between different individuals and groups in political activism.” [Source]

For more CDT coverage on Xinjiang, click here.


Chinese ‘reeducation camps’ in spotlight at Kazakh trial

July 17, 2018

Secretive “re-education camps” allegedly holding hundreds of thousands of people in a Muslim-majority region in western China are the focus of an explosive court case in Kazakhstan, testing the country’s ties with Beijing.

On trial is Sayragul Sauytbay, an ethnic Kazakh Chinese national who is accused of illegally crossing the border to join her husband and two children in Kazakhstan.

But it is the 41-year-old’s testimony about her forced work in the camp system in the Xinjiang region that has drawn the most attention.

© AFP/File | The 41-year-old said she had been tricked into working in one of the camps

Beijing has stepped up a crackdown in Xinjiang against what it calls separatist elements.

At a public hearing, Sauytbay said she was granted access to classified documents that shed light on the sprawling network of re-education centres.

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China’s predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups are believed to make up the majority of the camps’ populations.

Chinese authorities have denied the existence of such facilities despite mounting evidence from both official documents and testimonies from those who have escaped them.

Asked under oath about a so-called “camp” where she worked as an employee of the Chinese state, court spectators gasped when Sauytbay replied it held some 2,500 ethnic Kazakhs.

“In China they call it a political camp but really it was a prison in the mountains,” she said.

Sauytbay said authorities had told her she would never be allowed to enter Kazakhstan, where her family had obtained citizenship.

“That I am discussing this camp in an open court means I am already revealing state secrets,” said Sauytbay, who asked Kazakhstan not to send her back to China.

– ‘This person will disappear’ –

Sauytbay is one of many ethnic Kazakhs separated from relatives over the border after a crackdown in Xinjiang, where authorities cite separatist and extremist threats as justification for repressive policies.

There are about 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang.

They had however avoided extreme state repression suffered by Uighurs, another mostly Muslim Turkic group that forms a demographic majority in many parts of the region.

Unlike Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs had long moved freely between China and their historic homeland.

About 200,000 of them became Kazakh citizens since the Central Asian country’s independence in 1991.

That freedom disappeared however after a Chinese official known for his aggressive surveillance and population control measures in Tibet took charge of the nominally autonomous region in 2016, overseeing mass detentions and programmes of re-education for Muslims.

In late 2016 authorities took the unprecedented step of calling in Muslim minorities’ passports, forcing anyone needing to leave the country to file official requests.

Sauytbay’s husband Wali Islam testified that for several months the family lost contact with her after she was reassigned to a re-education centre from a state kindergarten.

Sauytbay told the court she had been tricked into working at the camps by authorities.

The family was reunited only after she crossed the border this April. Kazakh security services arrested her on May 21.

Sauytbay’s lawyer Abzal Kuspanov said the testimony of his client — who briefly consoled her 13-year-old daughter as she was ushered into the dock by police — was a sufficient indicator as to what will await her if she returns to China.

“We are not saying that she has not committed a crime by violating state borders using false documents. We have admitted that to the court and we are prepared to accept punishment,” Kuspanov told AFP Friday.

“What we are saying is — don’t give her back to China. If we do send her back, this person will simply disappear,” said Kuspanov.

– Diplomatic tensions –

The situation of ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang is embarrassing for Kazakhstan, which is China’s leading economic partner in Central Asia.

While the government is hesitant to confront Beijing, it is under growing pressure to speak out against the repression.

China has enlisted oil-rich Kazakhstan as a key partner in its trillion dollar Belt and Road initiative aimed at improving overland trade routes between Europe and Asia.

So far Beijing has kept silent on the allegations: two Chinese diplomats present at the hearing refused to answer questions from activists and journalists.

Under public pressure, Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry has called for “an objective and fair review” of detentions of Kazakh citizens in the region.

But Kazakhstan, which is seeking massive investments from China, is in a poor position to lobby for the rights of Chinese citizens like Sauytbay.

Her trial is a test “of the maturity of Kazakhstan-China relations”, said Serikzhan Mambetalin, a Kazakh political activist.

But if Kazakhstan hands a member of the diaspora back to China, “people will say the government cannot protect its own people,” he said.



China Cozies Up to EU as Trade Spat With U.S. Escalates

July 16, 2018

Chinese premier and EU officials pledge support for global trading system

European Council President Donald Tusk, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attend a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday.
European Council President Donald Tusk, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attend a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. PHOTO: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS

BEIJING—China courted the European Union as an ally in its trade conflict with the U.S., offering to improve access for foreign companies and work with the EU on reforming the World Trade Organization.

At an annual summit on Monday, China gave EU leaders much of what they were looking for. Both sides committed to setting up a working group to look at a WTO revamp, made headway in reaching an investment treaty and pledged to cooperate on enforcing the Paris accord on climate change.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang along with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker vowed their support for the global trading system at a joint press briefing. The two sides later released a statement enumerating their points of agreement, the first time in three years they were able to do so.

China and the EU are both battling the U.S. over tariffs the Trump administration said are needed to compensate for unfair trade policies. Monday’s summit came a day after President Donald Trump, in a CBS interview, named the EU as the U.S.’s biggest foe globally because of “what they do to us on trade.”

Even so, EU leaders are mindful that the bloc shares many of Washington’s criticisms of China’s policies they see as discriminating against foreign companies. Mr. Tusk, who on Sunday fired back at Mr. Trump saying on Twitter that “America and the EU are best friends,” on Monday cited a common responsibility to improve, not tear down the world order.

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“The architecture of the world is changing before our very eyes,” Mr. Tusk said at the appearance with Mr. Li. The EU leader mentioned Monday’s meeting with Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and urged all to work together to address shortcomings in the WTO.

“I am calling on our Chinese hosts, but also on Presidents Trump and Putin to jointly start this process for a reform of the WTO,” he said.

Mr. Tusk specifically called for new WTO rules to deal with government subsidies, protection of intellectual property and forced technology transfer—all issues that the EU and the U.S. have criticized China over.

Mr. Li said that China is ready to step up. “We feel it is necessary to improve and reform the WTO,” he said. Mr. Li reiterated pledges to “significantly raise” market access for foreign companies and cut tariffs for some goods. He didn’t provide a timeline or discuss subsidies for favored industries.

Beijing has previously said it is willing to work on revising the WTO. It has turned to the body to protest U.S. tariffs, including saying Monday that it filed a new challenge to the Trump administration’s plans to clamp tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

Analysts sensed little new in China’s offer to the EU. “Statements in favor of multilateralism are nothing new and a working group on reforming the WTO is no concession,” said Lance Noble, senior policy analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm.

EU leaders also suggested that China could show more resolve in addressing criticisms of its trade policies.

Mr. Li, in defending China’s treatment of foreign companies, pointed to German chemical giant BASF’s announcement last week that it received approval for a $10 billion wholly owned plant in China.

The BASF deal, said Mr. Juncker, “shows if China wishes to open up, it can choose to.”

China has been actively trying to woo the EU as trade tensions between Beijing and Washington have escalated. With tariffs from the U.S. looming last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping suggested to a group of mostly European business executives that better treatment awaits companies whose countries aren’t caught in a trade fight.

In a sign of Beijing’s willingness to satisfy European priorities, China and the EU also issued a joint statement in support of the Paris climate-change accord. The two had agreed on the declaration ahead of a summit in Brussels last year following Mr. Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the global agreement. But China pulled the plug on the announcement after EU officials refused Chinese entreaties on trade, particularly regarding Beijing’s bid to be recognized by Europe as a market economy.

In Europe earlier this month, Mr. Li met with leaders of Central and Eastern European countries and held a summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in which they also renewed a commitment to a rules-based trading system.

EU leaders refrained on Monday from criticizing China on human rights, with Mr. Tusk only saying “differences persist.” Asked if he raised China’s detention of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group, in re-education camps in the country’s northwest, Mr. Tusk said he brought up individual human-rights cases during the summit and didn’t elaborate further.

Last week, China released Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, after eight years of house arrest, and allowed her to relocate to Germany. It was widely seen as a gesture of goodwill toward Germany and the EU to help win them over against the U.S.

Write to Eva Dou at

US-Russia summit: Human Rights Groups Shed Light on Issues

July 16, 2018

Gay rights activists welcomed US President Donald Trump to his summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin by emblazoning their message across the walls of Finland’s presidential palace.

The US-based Human Rights Campaign used the Helsinki venue to draw attention to the plight of sexual minorities in Chechnya, the autonomous Russian republic run by Putin’s autocratic ally Ramzan Kadyrov.

Reporters and officials gathered in Helsinki for Monday’s summit saw the slogans above the harbour-front venue.

© AFP | Activists used a projector ro emblazon their message on the Finnish presidential palace ahead of the US-Russia summit

One of the slogan read: ‘Trump and Putin: Stop the Crimes Against Humanity in Chechnya.’

Activists say lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face discrimination in Russia, particularly in Muslim-majority Chechnya, where Kadyrov’s government is accused of jailing and torturing gay men.

The Human Rights Campaign also criticizes Trump’s US administration for allegedly having failed to speak out on LGBT rights in Russia while trying to set up the summit and mend frayed ties with the Kremlin.

“Trump has unconscionably turned a blind eye to some of the worst anti-LGBTQ atrocities in a generation, including monstrous attacks on gay and bisexual men in Chechnya,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global.

“HRC is here in Helsinki to demand Donald Trump end his deafening silence, publicly condemn these Chechen crimes against humanity, and call on Putin to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Trump and Putin were to meet one-on-one later Monday before giving a joint news conference to conclude the one-day summit.


Muslims in China’s ‘Little Mecca’ fear eradication of Islam

July 16, 2018

Green-domed mosques still dominate the skyline of China’s “Little Mecca”, but they have undergone a profound change — no longer do boys flit through their stone courtyards en route to classes and prayers.

In what locals told AFP they fear is a deliberate move to eradicate Islam, the atheist ruling Communist Party has banned minors under 16 from religious activity or study in Linxia, a deeply Islamic region in western China that had offered a haven of comparative religious freedom for the ethnic Hui Muslims there.

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A Chinese paramilitary policeman stands guard as a Muslim Uighur family walks past him  in the Uighur district of the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang region on July 14, 2009. (AFP Archive)

China governs Xinjiang, another majority Muslim region in its far west, with an iron fist to weed out what it calls “religious extremism” and “separatism” in the wake of deadly unrest, throwing ethnic Uighurs into shadowy re-education camps without due process for minor infractions such as owning a Koran or even growing a beard.

Now, Hui Muslims fear similar surveillance and repression.

“The winds have shifted” in the past year, explained a senior imam who requested anonymity, adding: “Frankly, I’m very afraid they’re going to implement the Xinjiang model here.”

Local authorities have severely curtailed the number of students over 16 officially allowed to study in each mosque and limited certification processes for new imams.

They have also instructed mosques to display national flags and stop sounding the call to prayer to reduce “noise pollution” — with loudspeakers removed entirely from all 355 mosques in a neighbouring county.

“They want to secularise Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots,” the imam said, shaking with barely restrained emotion. “These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: only in Communism and the party.”

– ‘Scared, very scared’ –

More than 1,000 boys used to attend his mid-sized mosque to study Koranic basics during summer and winter school holidays but now they are banned from even entering the premises.

His classrooms are still full of huge Arabic books from Saudi Arabia, browned with age and bound in heavy leather. But only 20 officially registered pupils over the age of 16 are now allowed to use them.

Parents were told the ban on extracurricular Koranic study was for their children’s own good, so they could rest and focus on secular coursework.

But most are utterly panicked.

“We’re scared, very scared. If it goes on like this, after a generation or two, our traditions will be gone,” said Ma Lan, a 45-year-old caretaker, tears dripping quietly into her uneaten bowl of beef noodle soup.

Inspectors checked her local mosque every few days during the last school holiday to ensure none of the 70 or so village boys were present.

Their imam initially tried holding lessons in secret before sunrise but soon gave up, fearing repercussions.

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Police patrolling as Muslims leave the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar © AFP

Instead of studying five hours a day at the mosque, her 10-year-old son stayed home watching television. He dreams of being an imam, but his schoolteachers have encouraged him to make money and become a Communist cadre, she said.

– Fear for the future –

The Hui number nearly 10 million, half of the country’s Muslim population, according to 2012 government statistics.

In Linxia, they have historically been well integrated with the ethnic Han majority, able to openly express their devotion and centre their lives around their faith.

Women in headscarves dish out boiled lamb in mirror-panelled halal eateries while streams of white-hatted men meander into mosques for afternoon prayers, passing shops hawking rugs, incense and “eight treasure tea,” a local speciality including dates and dried chrysanthemum buds.

But in January, local officials signed a decree — obtained by AFP — pledging to ensure that no individual or organisation would “support, permit, organise or guide minors towards entering mosques for Koranic study or religious activities”, or push them towards religious beliefs.

Imams there were all asked to comply in writing, and just one refused, earning fury from officials and embarrassment from colleagues, who have since shunned him.

“I cannot act contrary to my beliefs. Islam requires education from cradle to grave. As soon as children are able to speak we should begin to teach them our truths,” he explained to AFP.

“It feels like we are slowly moving back towards the repression of the Cultural Revolution,” a nationwide purge from 1966 until 1976 when local mosques were dismantled or turned into donkey sheds, he said.

Other imams complained authorities were issuing fewer certificates required to practise or teach and now only to graduates of state-sanctioned institutions.

“For now, there are enough of us, but I fear for the future. Even if there are still students, there won’t be anyone of quality to teach them,” said one imam.

Local authorities failed to answer repeated calls from AFP seeking comment but Linxia’s youth ban comes as China rolls out its newly revised Religious Affairs Regulations.

The rules have intensified punishments for unsanctioned religious activities across all faiths and regions.

Beijing is targeting minors “as a way to ensure that faith traditions die out while also maintaining the government’s control over ideological affairs,” charged William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International.

– Violent and bloodthirsty –

Another imam said the tense situation in Xinjiang was at the root of changes in Linxia.

The government believes that “religious piety fosters fanaticism, which spawns extremism, which leads to terrorist acts — so they want to secularise us,” he explained.

But many Hui are quick to distinguish themselves from Uighurs.

“They believe in Islam too, but they’re violent and bloodthirsty. We’re nothing like that,” said Muslim hairdresser Ma Jiancai, 40, drawing on common stereotypes.

Sitting under the elegant eaves of a Sufi shrine complex, a young scholar from Xinjiang explained that his family had sent him alone aged five to Linxia to study the Koran with a freedom not possible in his hometown.

“Things are very different here,” he said with knitted brows. “I hope to stay.”


See also:

Tens of thousands detained in China’s Xinjiang, US diplomat says



Uighur children fall victim to China anti-terror drive

July 10, 2018

Thousands in Xinjiang placed in de facto orphanages after parents detained

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Ethnic Uighur children in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province © Getty

By Emily Feng in Kashgar, China

On a quiet street in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, a house lies empty, padlocked from the outside, the family who lived there gone.

The father was detained in February; three months later the mother was also taken away by authorities. They had allegedly shared extremist Islamist content on their mobile phones, family friends said.

Despite protests from relatives, two of their children, aged 18 and 15, were then detained and their younger two, aged seven and nine, were sent to a state welfare centre. “The grandfather even wept, but the authorities would not let him keep his grandchildren,” recalled an acquaintance.

The family had fallen foul of an anti-terror drive conducted by Beijing, which has forcibly separated families, sending thousands of children to de facto orphanages, according to Uighurs interviewed in China and abroad by the Financial Times.

As the Trump administration struggles to reunite migrants and their children forcibly separated at the US border, China has been separating families on a far larger scale as part of a rapidly intensifying security campaign. The campaign has put the region on lockdown, forbidding Uighurs from travelling and putting them under high-tech digital and physical surveillance.

Since 2016, China has been imprisoning Uighurs in extralegal detention centres in the name of combating terrorism. China denies that such centres exist, rejecting efforts by western countries to discuss Xinjiang, according to two diplomats.

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Police patrolling as Muslims leave the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar © AFP

The number of detentions has grown rapidly; in April, Laura Stone, the US acting deputy assistant secretary for east Asian and Pacific affairs, said the number of Uighurs detained was “at the very least in the tens of thousands”.

The widening scale of the detentions means it is increasingly common for entire extended families to be separated from their children. The younger children are then sent to “child welfare guidance centres” while older children are sometimes sent to state-run vocational institutes, according to residents in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, and Kashgar.

“If both parents are in jail, the child will be sent to a re-education centre for ‘special children’,” said a former teacher in one of the re-education centres. “The child is forbidden to go to school with the normal children because the parents have a political problem.”

In early 2017, Xinjiang began building dozens of these welfare centres, according to public tenders issued by local county governments and local state media reports. The orphanages are being built under a new “five guarantees” policy begun in 2017 that aims to provide orphans with state-sponsored care until they turn 18.

The centres are usually massive in scale, even when located in remote areas. In Yumin county, with a population of 50,000, authorities recently broke ground on a 3,000 sq m centre at a cost of Rmb9.8m ($1.5m). One county in Kashgar built 18 new orphanages in 2017 alone, according to local media.

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A street in Kashgar where a detained family once lived © Emily Feng

Not all children are sent to welfare centres, say Xinjiang residents. The rapid escalation of detentions has left local governments unprepared to manage the thousands of children needing care. Some board at existing state-run schools. Older children can be sent to vocational schools, a practice that has existed in China, albeit on a very small scale, for years.

“There has been a big readjustment within the educational system here because of the training schools,” said a retired government official in Kashgar surnamed Dong, employing a common euphemism for the detention centres. “[The children] eat, sleep and learn on the government’s expense, though I would not advise you to send your own children there. It is really all just the children of Uighurs.”

Mutelip (a pseudonym), an Uighur living in the US, had two cousins aged 10 and 12 taken away by government officials and sent to an unspecified school on a state scholarship last April. His grandparents cut off communication with him, fearing punishment for communicating with someone abroad.

“My grandparents tried to take [my cousins] in, but the government wouldn’t allow it. Another uncle of mine was sent to the detention camps after he objected [to the cousins being taken away],” said Mutelip. By his count, he has 86 relatives who have been sent to prison or re-education camps across the region.

As detentions increase, Uighur parents living outside China face an impossible choice: return home and face certain imprisonment or remain abroad, unable to determine what has happened to their children in Xinjiang. Digital and physical surveillance makes contact with family and friends there near impossible.

“I dream of being with my daughter. Then I dream I am in Urumqi and the police are coming to my home and I’m afraid they will take me to prison,” said Tahir Imin, a Uighur academic who left behind a seven-year-old daughter in 2016 to pursue a masters degree in Israel. He is now a political refugee in the US.

Last June, Mr Imin’s wife asked for a divorce, which he granted, after she was repeatedly harassed by local security forces in Urumqi for her relationship with Mr Imin.

Earlier this year, friends in Xinjiang told Mr Imin that his entire extended family had been detained or imprisoned, but they did not provide details for fear that their conversations were being monitored and they would be punished. Mr Imin is unclear about what happened to his daughter. Shortly before cutting off contact in January, his daughter told him to stop contacting his family.

The words cut deep, but he believes they were sent to him under psychological pressure and duress. “She loves me very much,” said Mr Imin. “She knows everything.”

Follow Emily Feng on Twitter @emilyzfeng

South China Sea: Time for a different Philippine narrative on maritime dispute with China

July 7, 2018

Since the stunning victory over China in 2016, the official story has been defeatist

Soon, it will be two years since the Philippines overwhelmingly won in its maritime dispute against China. But during this time, the official narrative in the Philippines has been one with strong defeatist tones.

By Marites Dañguilan Vitug


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From Day 1, July 12, 2016, when the international arbitral tribunal issued its decision invalidating China’s 9-dash line and clarifying the status of certain features in the South China Sea, this ruling has never been given the national attention it deserved. It has not been used as leverage in the country’s dealings with China. It has not been in the Department of Foreign Affairs’ talking points.

It has not been part of the country’s diplomatic arsenal.

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Yes, we won, officials say, but…

  • China is our source of economic deliverance. China will rebuild war-torn Marawi. China will invest heavily in the government’s “Build, Build, Build”
    program. Millions of Chinese tourists will boost our tourism industry. China is our new source of weapons.
  • China is a dear friend who, unlike the European Union, is nonchalant about the deadly drug war that has killed thousands and has led to a crushing wave of impunity.

These buts drown out the gains of July 12, 2016, weakening the Philippine position, making our country’s voice part of the chorus of approval of China in the region.

Let us not be taken by the official story. It’s time to talk about a different narrative.

Let’s go back to the story of Philippines vs. China, the historic arbitration case that reverberated in various parts of the world. As a law professor from the University of Geneva said, “July 12, 2016 is a date that will remain etched in the history of international adjudication.”

Let’s go back to the almost two decades of back-and-forth with Beijing when our diplomats asserted Philippine rights over parts of the South China Sea – only to be rebuffed with its stock response that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over this vast area.

Let’s hear from our scholars, experts, and diplomats on how to make use of our legal victory and start a national conversation on this crucial issue.

Historic case

In my new book, Rock Solid: How the Philippines won its maritime case against China, I tell the story of this victory that gave the country so much – a maritime area larger than the total land area of the Philippines, rich in resources – but has since been disregarded by the government.

First of all, the case is historic. It is the first to interpret the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) definitions of rocks, islands, and low-tide elevations; the first case to be filed by a South China Sea claimant state against China; and it is the first case to address the scope and application of the Unclos provision on protection and preservation of the environment.

This book addresses why President Benigno Aquino III took China to Court. Among others, he particularly remembered the quip of one ASEAN senior leader: “There are big countries and there are small countries. That’s the way of the world.” He mulled over this and thought that it was precisely the law that would serve as the great equalizer.

With this as anchor – the law as the great equalizer – Aquino decided, with the approval of the Cabinet, the leaders of Congress and two past presidents, to sue China.

In January 2013, the Philippines began its legal battle. It filed a “notification of statement and claim.”

More than year later, the Philippines submitted its memorial, like a plea, which reached more than 3,000 pages. It was a product of massive research in history, international law, geology, hydrography, marine biodiversity, and cartography. This included 10 volumes of annexes, which contained maps, nautical charts, expert reports, witnesses’ affidavits, historical records, and official communications.

Almost two decades of written exchanges between the Philippines and China, including notes verbale, were made public. Intelligence reports of the Navy, the Western Command of the Armed Forces, and the Department of National Defense were also submitted to the tribunal.

This was a first in the country: that diplomatic cables and intelligence documents were revealed to the public, a fascinating trove of our diplomatic history.

The Philippine story also unfolds in the transcripts of the oral hearings in The Hague which capture the essential points of the case. Paul Reichler and his team at Foley Hoag used the richly-documented diplomatic history of the Philippines-China dispute in their arguments before the tribunal.

These transcripts, the Philippine memorial, the awards (or the tribunal’s decisions) on jurisdiction and merit are accessible reading to non-lawyers like me. They can be downloaded from the website of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

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Despite the stunning victory, why was the Philippines so glum about a historic ruling that was on its side? Why did it choose to bury a euphoric moment instead of using the victory to galvanize a nation?

The answer lay in the country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte. He held a different view: his heart and mind were with China.

The Duterte government has taken a defeatist stance despite the immensity of what the Philippines had gained from the ruling. Duterte once said that the Philippines was “helpless” in the face of China’s might. For him, the choices in dealing with China were extreme, either to talk or to go to war. He has framed foreign policy in a false dichotomy.

While the story of Philippines vs. China offers hope and inspiration, it is the aftermath that offers more challenges. Rock Solid gives a few prescriptions on how to make the tribunal’s decision work, but there are definitely more ideas out there worth exploring.

Many have said that international pressure can encourage the implementation of the award – but friendly countries have to take the lead from the Philippines.

In the region, the award benefited not only the Philippines but other Southeast Asian states which have made claims to parts of the South China Sea. It was clear from the ruling, as Reichler explained, that “if China’s nine-dash line is invalid as to the Philippines, it is equally invalid to other states bordering the South China Sea like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and the rest of the international community.”

Making the tribunal ruling work and seeing it come to fruition, partly or fully, will take a long time, way beyond a single president’s term. It will require strategic thinking anchored on a strong sense of justice, equity, and sovereign rights. –


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

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‘We cannot live here’: Afghanistan’s Sikhs weigh future after suicide bombing — “Non Muslims are the target here.”

July 2, 2018

Many among Afghanistan’s dwindling Sikh minority are considering leaving for neighboring India, after a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday killed at least 13 members of the community.

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Afghan Sikh men carry the coffin of one of the victims of yesterday’s blast in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

The victims of the attack claimed by militant group Islamic State included Avtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate in parliamentary elections this October, and Rawail Singh, a prominent community activist.

“I am clear that we cannot live here anymore,” said Tejvir Singh, 35, whose uncle was killed in the blast.

“Our religious practices will not be tolerated by the Islamic terrorists. We are Afghans. The government recognizes us, but terrorists target us because we are not Muslims,” added Singh, the secretary of a national panel of Hindus and Sikhs.

The Sikh community now numbers fewer than 300 families in Afghanistan, which has only two gurdwaras, or places of worship, one each in Jalalabad and Kabul, the capital, Singh added.

Although almost entirely a Muslim country, Afghanistan was home to as many as 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before a devastating civil war in the 1990s.

Even a decade ago, the U.S. State Department said in a report, about 3,000 Sikhs and Hindus still lived there.

Despite official political representation and freedom of worship, many face prejudice and harassment as well as violence from militant Islamist groups, prompting thousands to move to India, their spiritual homeland.

Following the Jalalabad attack, some Sikhs have sought shelter at the city’s Indian consulate.

“We are left with two choices: to leave for India or to convert to Islam,” said Baldev Singh, who owns a book- and textile shop in Jalalabad.

India has issued long-term visas to members of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities.

“They can all live in India without any limitation,” said Vinay Kumar, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan. “The final call has to be taken by them. We are here to assist them.”

Kumar, who was in the Indian capital, New Delhi, to discuss the security situation, said the government was helping organize the last rites of Sikhs killed in the blast.


But other Sikhs, with land or businesses and no ties to India, say they do not plan to leave, as Afghanistan remains their country. India has offered to take the dead bodies, but at least nine were cremated according to Sikh rites in Jalalabad.

“We are not cowards,” said Sandeep Singh, a Sikh shopkeeper in Kabul. “Afghanistan is our country and we are not leaving anywhere.”

The attack targeted “Afghanistan’s multicultural fabric”, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday. He is expected to hold a meeting to discuss the security threats to Indian and religious minorities.

India, a longstanding ally of Afghanistan, has invested in several large development projects, but heightened security risks have prompted its companies to cut back operations.

The two countries’ officials have not been able to free seven Indian engineers kidnapped in May in the northern province of Baghlan.


Additional reporting by Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad, Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Editing by James Mackenzie and Clarence Fernandez

UN chief hears of ‘unimaginable’ atrocities as he visits Rohingya camps

July 2, 2018

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he heard “unimaginable” accounts of atrocities during a visit Monday to vast camps in Bangladesh that are home to a million Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar.

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Guterres described the situation for the persecuted Muslim minority as “a humanitarian and human rights nightmare”, as he prepared to tour makeshift shelters crammed with people who escaped a huge Myanmar army operation last year that the UN has likened to ethnic cleansing.

“In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, I’ve just heard unimaginable accounts of killing and rape from Rohingya refugees who recently fled Myanmar. They want justice and a safe return home,” Guterres said on Twitter.

“The Rohingya are one of the most discriminated against and vulnerable communities on Earth,” he said in tweet before his visit to the camps in southern Bangladesh.

Accompanied by the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, he called it a “mission of solidarity with Rohingya refugees and the communities supporting them. The compassion & generosity of the Bangladeshi people shows the best of humanity and saved many thousands of lives”.

© AFP | United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres arrived for his visit accompanied by the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim

The bulk of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, or some 700,000 people, flooded across the border last August to escape the violence.

They are loathed by many in Myanmar, where they were stripped of citizenship and branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite calling Rakhine their homeland.

A UN Security Council delegation visited Myanmar and Rakhine state in early May, meeting refugees who gave detailed accounts of killings, rape and villages torched at the hands of Myanmar’s military.

Myanmar has vehemently denied allegations by the United States, the UN and others of ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to begin repatriating the Rohingya but the process has stalled, with both sides accusing the other of frustrating the effort.

Fewer than 200 have been resettled, and the vast majority refuse to contemplate returning until their rights, citizenship and safety are assured.

Around 100 Rohingya staged a protest just before Guterres’s visit, unhappy about a preliminary UN deal with Myanmar to assess conditions on the ground for their possible return home.

The United Nations has said however that conditions in the persecuted minority’s home state of Rakhine in western Myanmar are not conducive for the refugees’ safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation.


Thailand, Malaysia Discuss Child Bride Issue as man won’t give up 11-year-old wife to be (Already has two wives)

July 1, 2018

The man who has solemnised his marriage with an 11-year-old girl said that he will not be living with his new wife – his third – until she turns 16 and does not plan to give her up despite public outcry.

Rubber dealer Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid, 41, said he and the girl had undertaken a “nikah gantung” ceremony in Golok, Thailand last month.

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Nikah gantung referred to an arrangement where the marriage was solemnised first but the couple could defer living together.

He told Bernama that he had sought the permission from the girl’s father and they had agreed to his marriage proposal.

“I know that the girl is only 11 and is not going to school. We need to wait until she is 16 to live together and (the girl) agreed,” Che Abdul Karim said, according to Bernama.

He said he was disappointed by netizens who are slandering him and will take legal action against his critics.

Meanwhile, Bernama reports that the girl’s father, Mat Rashid Rimadsa, 49, corroborated Che Abdul Karim’s story.

Rubber tapper Mat Rashid, 49, said he often sold his produce to Che Abdul Karim in Gua Musang.

“He promised me that he would register the marriage with the Islamic Affairs Department in Kelantan when (my daughter) turns 16 years of age. At the moment, she is staying with me,” he said.

Mat Rashid said he and his family were all Thai citizens residing in Gua Musang.

He said Che Abdul Karim had made the proposal one week before Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

“I told him that my daughter was not old enough to be a wife as she was only 11 years old, but the man persisted and promised to nikah gantung, so I agreed,” he said.

“The man was willing to marry my daughter because he wanted to help me as I am poor and depend on the income I get tapping rubber.”

The girl told Bernama that she loved Che Abdul Karim although he was already married to two women. She claimed to have a good relationship with both wives.

“I accept whatever decision my parents and husband have made, to wait five years before we can live together because I realise that I am only 11 years old,” she said, adding that she was not bothered what others said because she was happy with her husband.

The Kelantan Islamic Affairs Department director Che Mohd Rahim Jusoh said his department would investigate the matter as even if the marriage was conducted in another country, Malaysians had to get the permission of the Syariah Court and the girl’s parents if she was underaged.

“The law only allows a woman who is 18 years and older to marry without requiring the consent of the Syariah Court,” he told Bernama.